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Belle blasts O's again in 4-2 loss


CLEVELAND -- If not for Albert Belle, the Orioles might have completed a perfect road trip last night at the Cleveland Indians' seemingly perfect new home, Jacobs Field.

Instead, the Orioles went home losers, 4-2, and they had the remarkable Belle to blame for that.

Belle defeated the Orioles with a late-inning home run for the second time in three nights, enabling the Indians to gain a split in a four-game series that featured three one-run games and a two-run decision.

The pitcher? Not that it really matters the way Belle is swinging these days, but it was Mark Williamson. Belle scorched Williamson's first pitch of the night into the left-field bleachers with one man on, breaking a 2-2 tie in the eighth.

Two nights earlier, Belle hit Alan Mills' second pitch of the night -- a 93-mph fastball -- into the right-field seats to break a ninth-inning tie.

A Mills fastball here, a Williamson slider there. At this point, does it really matter who's on the mound when Belle is at the plate?

"It doesn't look like it," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "He didn't look too particular in this series."

Oates said he opted for Williamson instead of Mills because he wanted to try to get Belle out with breaking balls, not fastballs.

Belle has homered in three consecutive games and five of six. At Jacobs Field, a hitter's park all the way, not to mention a gorgeous ballpark, Belle has been particularly nasty.

In 36 games at Jacobs Field, Belle is hitting .425 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs. Overall, Belle is batting .371 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs.


Nice numbers for a hitter who rates third mention in the league behind Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas.

Even though they couldn't solve Belle, the Orioles went 5-2 on the trip that started with a three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a successful trip for the Orioles (24-14 on the road) any way you look at it. Any way but one, that is. They actually lost ground in the standings to the streaking New York Yankees, who lead the Orioles by 4 1/2 games.

Belle's 23rd home run turned left-hander Jamie Moyer (2-6) into the losing pitcher and Cleveland right-hander Mark Clark (9-2) into the winner. Clark scattered 10 hits for the complete-game win.

Winless in his past seven starts, Moyer deserved a better fate on this night. He reached a season high with eight strikeouts, walked two, and allowed six hits. He was charged with allowing three earned runs.

After Moyer walked Carlos Baerga with one out, Oates called on Williamson to face Belle. "I don't think it's anything to hang your head about," Oates said. "Albert Belle's gotten a lot of people this year."

One pitch later, Belle made Williamson feel rotten.

"I'm not in a real good mood right now," Williamson said. "Hanging slider. He hit it out. Jamie pitched his tail off and I came in and lost it for him. That about says it all doesn't it?"

Just about, though Belle could have done the same thing against whoever the Orioles sent to the mound.

Belle's was the third home run of the evening. Moyer allowed Kenny Lofton's eighth home run in the first and Clark served up Cal Ripken's 10th in the second.

It was one of 10 hits in the four-game series for Ripken, who led an Orioles offense that reached double figures in hits in each of the games. The home run extended the team's club-record streak of games with a home run to 16.

Ripken, hitting .307 with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs, finished June with a .354 average, seven home runs and 16 RBIs.

Ripken, who hit a game-tying home run to lead off the second, quietly is putting together a monster season.

"I look at the year he's had and it's as good a year as he's ever had," Oates said. "He's had big hit after big hit for us and really I think we kind of take him for granted."

Ripken has played in 1,976 consecutive games and nobody is calling for him to take a day off.

"Nobody has written me telling me he's killing us by playing every day," Oates said. "Nobody is telling me I have to give him a day off. I used to get 10 letters a day and I could always tell which ones they were. No name. No return address. It's funny but they stopped writing."

And Ripken kept on playing.

His 307th career home run erased the Indians' lead created by Lofton's overlooked skill, his power.

Lofton crushed Moyer's 3-2 pitch into the Orioles' bullpen in right field, but Moyer didn't let it snowball into another one of those horrid first innings.

Once considered a slap hitter, Lofton no longer fits into that category, as evidenced by how deeply outfielders now play him as compared to when he first broke in.

Much more than just a base stealer, Lofton brought a .365 batting average and a .548 slugging percentage into the night, the latter figure second on the powerful Indians only to Belle.

Lofton's eighth home run came in his 300th at-bat. He had six home runs in 1,219 at-bats before this year.

During a recent four-start stretch, Moyer compiled a 22.50 first-inning ERA, but on this night he didn't let it happen.

Eddie Murray's two-out single to left in the sixth inning gave the Indians a 2-1 lead. Omar Vizquel reached on a one-out single and moved to second when Moyer walked Belle. With Murray at the plate, the runners executed a double steal and Murray drove home Vizquel.

Moyer got out of the inning by striking out Manny Ramirez, the seventh strikeout of the night for Moyer.

Tim Hulett, playing in place of injured second baseman Mark McLemore (jammed right shoulder), tied the score, 2-2, with a one-out single in the seventh, scoring Leo Gomez, who had reached on a leadoff single and took second on Chris Hoiles' single. Brady Anderson's double-play grounder ended the threat.


Opponent: California Angels

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Angels' Joe Magrane (2-4, 6.29) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (11-4, 2.67)

Tickets: Several hundred scattered singles remain, not including 183 bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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